Born in Pingxiang, Jiangxi Province, China, 08 Jan. 1990.
Currently living and working in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
interview Peng Zhang with Chiara Vignandel
Sunday 17th of September 2023, Ezinge
Full work-overall, rubber boots and shovel in his hands, Peng Zhang welcomes us on a rainy afternoon, busy working on his project for Grasland Ezinge.
From the 1st to the 30th of September, the first artist in residency will be there, digging, planting and modelling with soil a 50 m2 landscape sculpture in the shape of Ezinge, in an attempt to reconnect with the land and involve the community.
From the 27th to the 30th , between 12.00 and 17.00, we are all invited to take part and contribute to Peng Zhang’s project, hands in the dirt.
Peng places some garden chairs on the grass and with a welcoming smile invites us to sit, observe the landscape and reflect about culture, agriculture and a slow way of working—and living—that can lead to unexpected results.
How is it going here in Ezinge?
Super good! It has been amazing here since I arrived because the environment is so simple and harmonious. It really reminds me of the rural life in the village I was born in, in the south of China. I truly enjoy the life here, the land and the people.
Do you see some similarities between the landscape of this place and the one of the village you were born in, Shijian Cun?
I would say not in the landscape but more in this kind of abstract feeling… For example, the harmony and simplicity of people’s rural lives. They wake up, work on the land, sleep; this kind of harmony. But the landscape itself is very different.
However, practically, another thing is very similar: the soil. In my village it’s very muddy and clayey, and here is the same. I feel the physical similarity.
That’s good for you and your work, to make you feel comfortable.
Most of your work is about reconnecting with the land, agricultural culture… we know conversations about those themes are very present right now. I am wondering if you consider your work as a form of activism.
To be honest no, I don’t. It’s not in my mind when I work. I totally understand people can see it in this perspective and it’s not a problem for me. But it’s not my goal, it’s not what drives me. This type of work can remind people to see and be aware of what is going on in the land; we can always learn from the land. This can be a form of activism, maybe.
You do this because it’s what you’re familiar with but it’s also what you really enjoy doing.
Definitely. It’s also interesting what Joke, the owner of this land, told me. She used to organize sort of rituals with kids and friends about respecting the land, the motherland. So I’m thinking of making a communal land project, a communal playground open for the public, so they can enjoy it too.
This is another important part of your work, right? It’s not just about the land, but it’s also about creating a sense of community.
Yes. Where I was born in China the land is considered a communal space. Kids play together outside, making sculptures with mud, villagers work together and socialize, it’s part of our culture. I learned a lot from the land as a kid.
So, agriculture can be culture.
Another fascinating part is the unpredictability of working with nature, more specifically with the soil in this case.
That’s also the case. When SIGN invited me, I immediately told them I couldn’t do something permanent, that would look always the same. It will change every day. Conceptually is growing every day, thanks to the contribute of the weather, the rain, for example, but of the people also. There’s no end, it’s always growing and ongoing.
I also had to adjust to the seasonality and choose to plant what can grow here now, in this season.
This is a beautiful aspect of this project, it’s not completely conscious.
It’s somehow spiritual too. Is it meditative for you?
For me yes, because I enjoy working this way. I don’t stress and my brain is completely empty inside while I’m working. So, yes, is a meditation inside of me.
I don’t know for the public, how they feel. I think for them is more a way of learning. It’s a place where everyone can find their resources.
Actively involving people is the second part of the project, right?
Yes. People will come and work together, and I want to leave it open, I don’t want to give specific instructions or agenda. I’m open to what will happen, accordingly to the way in which nature itself works.
Artist Statement Peng Zhang
Memories about rural life in my village are the focal point of my work. I am interested in themes such as closeness and togetherness, as well as simplicity and slowness which are mostly related to farmland and nature in my village.
I dive into my past and attempt to capture moments that I have experienced from a young age. The images refer to my memories from the village, Shijian Cun, where I grew up as a child in the countryside of South China.
My work is characterized by earthly tones which reflect this landscape. During the making process, I bring my base to the land and work as a farmer by bending over or kneeling on the land or collaborating with other people and livestock as ways of producing. My materials stem from the land and nature and my techniques originate from rural life which in essence could be seen as mirroring a farmer’s relationship to their land and nature.
With my work, I not only give a glimpse into my personal background, but also turn the focus towards the present moment where a lack of knowledge and experience about rural life is increasing and to evoke people’s interest in rural reality.
Artist Statement Peng Zhang
Herinneringen aan het plattelandsleven in mijn dorp staan centraal in mijn werk. Ik ben geïnteresseerd in thema’s als nabijheid en saamhorigheid, maar ook in eenvoud en traagheid, die vooral verband houden met landbouwgrond en de natuur in mijn dorp.
Ik duik in mijn verleden en probeer momenten vast te leggen die ik vanaf jonge leeftijd heb meegemaakt. De beelden verwijzen naar mijn herinneringen aan het dorp Shijian Cun, waar ik als kind opgroeide op het platteland van Zuid-China.
Mijn werk kenmerkt zich door aardse tinten die dit landschap weerspiegelen. Tijdens het maakproces breng ik mijn basis naar het land en werk ik als boer door voorover te buigen of op het land te knielen of samen te werken met andere mensen en vee als manier van produceren. Mijn materialen komen voort uit het land en de natuur en mijn technieken komen voort uit het plattelandsleven, wat in essentie gezien kan worden als een weerspiegeling van de relatie van een boer tot zijn land en de natuur.
Met mijn werk geef ik niet alleen een inkijkje in mijn persoonlijke achtergrond, maar verleg ik ook de focus naar het huidige moment waar een gebrek aan kennis en ervaring over het leven op het platteland toeneemt en om de interesse van mensen voor de realiteit op het platteland op te wekken.